Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 23: Auschwitz

Yesterday we paid for a bus and tour to get to and see Auschwitz and Birkenau, the World War II concentration camps.

We were only really able to take pictures in the outside. They said no pictures inside because it causes congestion, but I snapped just a couple.

They have converted many of the barracks in Auschwitz into museum-like displays, with pictures of the camp, and of prisoners, blurbs of the history, quotes, and artifacts. Only one of the barracks buildings you see in its "original" state. That barracks (#11) contained rooms upstairs where officials would hold small trials for crimes (which usually resulted in a death sentence), undressing/"wash" rooms for men and women who were going out to be shot at the death wall between barracks 10 (the "medical experimentation" barracks) and 11. 

Entrance Gate: "Work makes you free."

The "Death Wall" where executions were carried out, primarily before the use of the gas chambers.

Display of hair found from female victims. In the beginning of the camp, they shaved the hair upon arrival, but it became "easier" to shave heads after the masses of women and children were executed in the gas chambers. Due to the passage of time, the hair has lost its color.

The basement of that barracks is where they have starvation rooms - if 1 member of a barracks escaped, 10 others would be sentenced to starve to death in these rooms. One man, a priest who was later canonized for his actions (he took the death sentence in place of another man), began dying by starvation in one of these rooms. There are also "standing rooms" - the size of a telephone booth - where 4 people were put together at once for punishment. The basement is also the location of the first experiment with Zyklon B, to see if it would execute a mass amount of people at once.

What was most stunning at Auschwitz was the fact that we actually walked thru the first working gas chamber of the camp. We were able to walk into the room that thousands of people walked into, but never walked out of. There are holes in the ceiling from where poisons were poured. The adjoining room was the crematoria. It felt, and smelled, like a great, emotional weight in there. It's hard to explain in words.

After seeing Auschwitz (which was SUPER crowded), we drove a few minutes to Birkenau. I cannot BELIEVE how huge that one was. And it was sobering because most of the pictures you see of "Auschwitz" are of the gates to Birkenau. 

They have reconstructed a couple of the barracks so we can see what it was like. The buildings that were made of wood were burned by the Nazis before liberation to try to minimize evidence. (Right, guys, the barbed wire, electric fences and acres of chimney remnants don't look AT ALL suspicious...)

The major crematoria (II, III, IV and V) were there, too. They were blown up by the Nazis, also, before liberation, except for IV - it was burned down by a group of the prisoners who had revolted. Hooray! Our guide explained that the prisoners who survived after liberation were asked their opinion of what should happen to the camps. Some wanted them destroyed and forgotten, but most wanted it preserved. Some wanted to replicate buildings that had been destroyed, but as for the crematoria, they chose to leave them demolished because the fact that the Nazis tried to destroy them only stands proves that the Nazis were well aware of their criminal actions. I thought that was very interesting.

The remains of the undressing room in crematoria II. You can see the stairs at the top of the picture, where the people entered the room. This room, and the crematoria themselves were underground, so as to not be seen by the outside. The buildings built above these rooms were used for medical experiments and such.

It's a sobering place, that's for sure. There seems to be a big mental block in my head, though, that prevents me from grasping it all. I think I'll get there eventually, but it felt SO surreal. Everyone in our group was discussing how impossible it seems. 

After we got back, Spence and I went to nap and decompress at the hostel.

We then went out for a meal - PIEROGIES!!!!!! The "maxi" plate of 36 for 39 zloty. That's about 11 dollars!!


We shopped in the main square and it is ever so exciting! There was this FABBO concert (heh...) and later, we also tried to find the location of the jazz festival nightly concert, but to no avail. :( Ah well.

Also - kiwi ice cream is delicious.

AND there is a bugler who plays his trumpet from St. Mary's basilica many times a day. We heard him yesterday and today and it's just neat. It began in the 13th century something about a trumpeter who stood in the church - the highest point to see if there are invaders - and when the Turks? came, the trumpeter played to warn the town, but was shot with an arrow mid-phrase. So even still today, his music sounds like it ends with a little hiccup, to commemorate the trumpeter who saved the town from the invasion! See a video on Spencer's FB page!

The end.
Tomorrow we're headed to Warsaw! I'm a little sad about it because Krakow has been my favorite town so far. I'd say Krakow and Skien, Norway. Please and thank you!! Copenhagen didn't seem nearly s social and fun as Krakow. Those Danes are too reserved for me :)

Ta ta for now!

1 comment:

  1. Having just been to Aushwitz, I'm curious what you think of this video. Highly, highly controversial lately. I'm composing a blog post in my head about it because I think it's wonderful. This old man has EVERY RIGHT IN THE WORLD to dance and celebrate his survival and posterity he was so close to losing.